Cracker Christmas

Off the beaten path – Christmas, Fla.

| March 2009

What’s a body to do during all those long winter months between the last show of the season and the first show for next year?

Well, you can do a little hunting, then when that season is over, sit by the fire and watch the flames flicker, scrunch down in your favorite chair and watch football on the weekends or basketball during the week, take the good wife shopping, or find another type of show to go to.

Finding another kind of show is not all that hard. Watch the Sunday papers for special events in your neck of the woods. The last show we attended in Ohio was in late October. We came to Florida in early November just in time to go to the Florida Flywheelers Fall Fuel-Up. They follow that with a winter swap meet in January and their regular show in late February … then there’s the show at Zolfo Springs.

We started looking for other places to go and found a neat seasonal show east of Orlando just off Route 50: Cracker Christmas at Fort Christmas Historical Park. The town of Christmas, which is located about halfway between Orlando and the Atlantic coast, has a population of about 4,000. During the Seminole Wars, soldiers built a small fort there. Since it was near Christmas time when the fort was completed, the soldiers named the settlement Fort Christmas.

In about 1975, the city of Orlando dedicated funds to construct a park one mile south of the original fort site. The park is filled with buildings, including a replica of the original fort consisting of two 20-foot-square block houses surrounded by pine pickets, the old Christmas U.S. Post Office, six period houses, a ranch barn, a cracker (Florida cowboy) cow camp, a one-room school building housing grades one through four from 1906 to 1969, and various other museums.

Wondering how the Florida cowboy got the nickname “cracker”? It comes from the long, rawhide whips once used by cowboys to drive cows out of swamps and clumps of trees. The noise made by the cracking whip was almost as loud as a rifle shot, hence “cracker.”

Varied display of vintage tractors and gas engines

If you’re interested in farm machinery, the display at Cracker Christmas fills the bill. The modest display at the 2008 show included a very nice collection of classic farm tractors. Most were International Harvester, but there was a good mix of Ford and John Deere as well. Since there are fewer “tourists” looking over the machinery than what you would encounter at a tractor show, you can go at a slower, more leisurely pace and simply spend more time with each tractor.

Interestingly, there was one homemade grove tractor in the mix. It was fashioned from Model A Ford car and truck parts. The tractor was built to use in the citrus groves that once populated central Florida. Florida citrus growers wanted a light-weight tractor to use in tending the groves, where rubber tires caused less damage to tender feeder roots.

The throaty sounds of gas engines could be heard throughout the park. While some were static displays, others performed important jobs like powering ice cream freezers or grist mills. Homemade ice cream was a treat for visitors; cornmeal and grits from the grist mill were reminders of daily fare of the past.